Dr. AIX's POSTS — 15 October 2014

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I’m still reflecting on the workshop that happened on Sunday and thought I would continue my thoughts on that lengthy session today. Yesterday, I heaped well-deserved praise on Morten Lynberg and his 2L label. His catalog of real high-resolution audio must be somewhere around 200 titles…maybe a few more. We offer the 2L releases in both stereo and surround on the iTrax website and they sell quite well. His approach and attention to detail is to be commended.

Next to speak at the session was Robert Friedrich of Five Four productions. He and his partners (which includes Michael Bishop) were the team at Telarc before the company was sold. They formed Five Four and have continued to record and produce classical and jazz projects. I hadn’t met Robert previously but I enjoyed his discussion and the photos that he shared. Five Four produces their records very differently than Morten and 2L. These guys stick to the DSD line by mixing all of the microphones live to 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround through an analog console. They captured most of their previous productions at DSD 64 but have recently been using more DSD 128 and 256.

They set up enough stereo pairs of microphones and some spot mikes to capture the overall blend and some solo sections. As Robert explained things, the microphones are connected to the preamps and then sent at line level to the inputs of an analog console. One picture showed a Soundcraft desk at the center of their improvised control room. There was a complete set of 5.1 surround monitors as well. They are committing the blend from the stage to the 5.1 or 2.0 mix as it happens so they have to get it right. They don’t mix in the box according to Robert.

The Five Four Productions approach is mandated by the lack of tools available when recording with DSD. They obviously believe in the 1-bit technology and capture using DSD 64 equipment. These days, I think they’ve gotten on board with the latest Horus converters and the Pyramix system to handle the post production steps necessary to complete a project. Anything other than a simple edit requires the data stream to be converted to PCM (DXD) and then converted back for distribution and delivery.

Robert shared a recording of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from the beginning of Act III of the opera “Die Walküre”, which is part of the “Ring” cycle. We all know this piece from numerous movie soundtracks. The recording was made for Sony and used in conjunction with the roll out of their 4K televisions. As I listened to the 5.1 surround mix (from the center of the room…I got there early and sat down in the best seat in the house), I couldn’t help but notice the tremendous difference between the 2L orchestra with choir recording that Morten played and this new track.

The Wagner selection should have been huge with blasting horns and agitated strings…but it wasn’t. Instead, it sounded flat and lifeless. There was no depth, the image was excessively wide and the top end was noticeably dull. I wasn’t sure what to attribute the marginal sound to. The playback system had already proven its worth with the 2L stuff.

What this less than stellar sound the result of the recording format? Morten played his ultra high-resolution PCM files and Robert played a DSD 64 track. There was a clear difference and I have to agree with Morten on the superiority of the ultra high-resolution PCM over the DSD encode. Of course, there’s all sorts of other things that might have compromised the sound…mic placement, analog signal path etc. But it wasn’t the same magic that we had heard 20 minutes before.

I know everything will think that I’m universally tilted away from anything DSD but I can assure you that I listened with my ears and not my brain. The Wagner piece never took off for me. And the surround mix should have accomplished that.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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